“Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’” ~ Nehemiah 8:10
I’ll admit, it seems a bit odd to be writing about joy this week. In the last couple of days, the seriousness with which COVID-19 virus is being taken has dramatically increased. Major events are being cancelled or postponed. Schools and colleges are being closed for at least two weeks and many are saying it might for as long as six weeks. Churches are canceling services for the time being.
One week ago, such measures were hard to imagine. Today they are the new reality. Are we overreacting? Are we panicking over nothing? Maybe. Maybe not. Honestly, only time will tell us the answer to such questions. In the meantime, 1 Thessalonians says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Really? Rejoice ALWAYS? Give thanks in ALL circumstances? Surely that’s a misprint, right? Not so much. There multiple verses which talk about joy and rejoicing despite less than ideal circumstances. Our key verse from Nehemiah 8 caught my attention as I was preparing for this post not because it has the word “joy” in it, but because of Nehemiah’s story.
Nehemiah’s world wasn’t calm and peaceful when he wrote those words. Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed and many Jews were living in exile in Babylon where they had begun worshiping foreign gods. Many of them were struggling to make ends meet. And while they tried to rebuild the city walls, a key protective and defensive measure for cities in those days, the workers had to defend themselves against three different armies who were firing arrows at them in an attempt to thwart their efforts.
Yet, in the midst of this, Nehemiah still says, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” It is knowing the context of these words which give them their rich meaning. Nehemiah’s words teach an important truth still relevant to us today: Celebration in the midst of destruction and despair isn’t escapism but a hard-core way to declare that our strength is found in God, not our circumstances.(Matt Kirk, IVP)
It’s always been super easy to be joyful when things are going well. When the baby is born healthy. When your team wins the championship. When you getting along well with your friends and family. When you aren’t worried about getting sick. When the news isn’t filled with doom and gloom from around the globe. When things are going well, it’s easy to praise God for all he has done.
It’s harder to praise God when things are not going well. But during hard times is when we discover the source of our joy. Is it our circumstances which can change on a moment’s notice? Or is it the Lord who is always there, always constant, and never changing? Hard times remind us that joy isn’t found in what we can create or control, but in the love and strength of God.
Rich Warren defines joy as the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright and the determined choice to praise God in every situation. Personally, I really like his definition. As a natural introvert, I can be incredibly happy and joyful and yet still incredibly quiet at the same time. I don’t necessarily shout it from the rooftops every time I’m in a great mood. So the idea of quiet confidence really rings true for me.
Additionally, I really appreciate the reality the joy is a choice we make. We choose how to respond to our circumstances. We can hear the news of an event being cancelled and mope, complain, and whine for the next several weeks. Or we can embrace the other opportunities which present themselves with a change in plans.
Ultimately, both personally and with the staff at camp, we are striving to take an informed, balanced approach to everything happening around us. A key verse I have embraced this past week has been 2 Timothy 1:17, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” If we truly live our lives directed by the Holy Spirit, fear shouldn’t be what defines our actions. Additionally, Proverbs 3:21 gives some great advice: “Do not lose sight of these – keep sound wisdom and discretion.”
Sound wisdom is especially key for me when facing uncertainty. Misinformation spreads fear and distrust. How many times have we wished someone would just tell us the truth? Just give us the facts? It is so much easier to make a wise decision, to find peace, calm, and even joy in the midst of unpleasant circumstances when have the facts before us. It’s so much easier to give thanks to God for all he has done when we know what it is he has done.
In these days of COVID-19, what are some of the specific things we can be joyful about?
We have the ability to communicate quickly when we learn new information about the symptoms, timeline, and spread of diseases.
We have the ability to make wise, informed decisions about our health and staying healthy.
We have access to clean water to wash our hands, one of the primary ways to help us stay healthy.
We have access to medical care if we are one of the unlucky ones who need hospitalization.
We live in a time which understands what germs are and how they spread enabling us to take measures to prevent them from spreading.
While I’m not enjoying the inconveniences COVID-19 is bringing into my life at the moment, I am choosing to rejoice in the many blessings God has allowed me to experience and continues to bring into my life.
While I don’t want to blow off COVID-19 as something no one should be caring about, I do want to offer some chances to find some humor in the midst of it all. After all, laughter is often said to be the best medicine, right?
Consider embracing a key scripture to help you remember where true joy comes from during stressful times. I personally like the following:
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
1 Timothy 6:17
It’s tempting to hunker down and adopt a “save yourselves” attitude at the moment. But consider what it truly means to love your neighbor as yourself. How can you both be wise in your efforts to remain healthy and still reach out to those in need? How can you be part of making sure there is enough food, medicine, and toilet paper for everyone?